Guys… I took a travel money belt to Europe when I was 19. We left the airport and got into downtown London and I needed to buy a water. I was way too embarrassed to pull out my travel money belt so went to the bathroom, took everything out I needed from it, and tossed it. Personally, I think travel money belts are so over the top and unnecessary and there are plenty of ways to manage your money abroad without one!
Let’s be honest, they are super dorky. But so are headlamps, and I love those! So, this is not just about looking cool it’s about just treating travel like every day life. If you rocked up to London and were couchsurfing like me, your host would carry a wallet like a normal person – why does your $100 need to be on your belly button hidden away?
Also, you should be carrying so much money/cards on your person that it would need to be hiding it, unless you are a drug smuggler but I think these days they swallow it and poop it out. Please guys, don’t swallow your money and poop it out.
Let me tell you how to handle your money without it being such a big deal!
More on money and travel:
- 9 tips to save money towards travel
- 13 ways to spend less money WHILE traveling
- 12 ways to travel the world for FREE
- 14 tips for EARNING money abroad
Choose the right bank
First of all, the very best thing I did was get a debit card that does NOT charge me for ATM withdraws or currency conversion fees. This is great even back in the US because I can go to the gas station and withdraw from an ATM that charges $3 and know that my bank is going to give me that $3 back. At the end of each money I get the money returned and when I’m abroad, which is always, the amount is usually around $40.00 which is a great savings.
Why is this so helpful? Because before I had this, I used to draw out the max of $200 so that I was withdrawing less. My old bank charged around $7 per transaction abroad. I didn’t like carrying $200 around with me. Because now I can withdraw without a fee, I can take out $50 at a time if I want to.
The bank I use is Charles Schwab. I’m obsessed with it. It’s actually a brokerage account but they offer checking linked to it as well. I get huge monthly envelopes about trading stocks and stuff, I’m like guys, you can see my bank balance, you know I’m not ready to buy stocks!
Capital One is another bank that I’ve heard doesn’t charge foreign ATM fees.
For UK folks, HSBC is the way to go from what I’ve read!
Tell your bank you’re leaving
You’ve got to let them know or they will see a foreign transaction as fraud. My old bank blocked my card when I was in the US trying to shop online from UK, but totally looked the other way when I didn’t tell them I was in Mexico and withdrew $400 in one day. Not cool! You want a bank that will help you out! PS I’m not affiliated with Charles Schwab, I just like them.
You should also make sure you:
- Know your PIN code for the ATM (especially if you are taking a backup card you don’t use often).
- Make sure the cards you are taking won’t expire.
- Make sure your online banking is set up and working.
When I travel, I take my primary ATM card. I take another debit card that is to my home bank and has extra saving money in it. It is connected to my parents since it was set up when I was 15 and if I was in an emergency and my kidnappers were like give us 20,000 now or die, my parents would put money in that account and I could withdraw it. Although FYI kidnappers, we don’t have that kind of cash so don’t bother, you’ll be stuck with me!
I also take an emergency credit card which I have actually never had to use. If you’re traveling a lot I recommend you get into travel hacking and use a credit card that will earn you points. I really should be doing this *sigh, add it to the list! Here’s a guide to the best travel hacking credit cards.
Now, about the cash
I don’t take money with me in the currency of the place I am going. There is always an ATM at arrivals at the airport. If you have a debit card that doesn’t charge fees, this is the best rate you’ll get for money exchange. I take out around $100 at a time unless I know I have a $75 taxi ride, then I”ll take out $175.
- Do NOT use the money exchangers at the airport
- DO take out less money at a time near the end of your trip so you aren’t stuck with a lot of the currency of the country you are leaving.
- If you are stuck with it, DO spend it on luxurious duty-free face creams instead of handing it over to the money-grubbing exchange counters!
- FYI the duty-free in many airports is still way higher than Sephora, but still I like to spend it rather than exchange because you lose so much on the exchange.
- If you must exchange money DO know the value. You can download an app like XEcurreny for that. You can use this offline. It updates the values when on WiFi and saves them.
How to carry the cash
As stated above, I am firmly against money belts. I carry mine (shocker alert) in a wallet, in a purse. I normal wallet… and a normal purse. I do keep my purse close to me at all times, and I choose a purse that has a zipper (unless it’s really cute and I just risk it…). I love thick leather Fossil bags. I’m pretty sure they’re too durable to be “slashed” by those guys who drive by on motorbikes you hear of in the news.
- Don’t carry everything! Keep only one ATM card on you.
- Keep extra cards in your luggage locked in your room or your rooms’ safe. To be honest, I’ve never used a hotel safe myself.
- Keep extra $50 (in US dollars) in cash in your luggage for emergencies. Most places in the world will accept USD in the case of an emergency.
- I keep my passport in my luggage in my room while I am out. I only carry it on me when I am going to the airport.
- If your card does expire, go ahead and have whoever can access the new card at your permanent home (they are sent out automatically to your address on file) activate it. You can use it for all online purchases and start to use your back up debit card at ATMs.
- If you think your card is stolen then of course cancel it. They can’t send you a new one abroad though. This is where Western Union is great. One time Ben lost his debit card for a year and send money to himself via WU because we couldn’t get a new card to India. Go ahead and have someone activate a new card for you back home and you can send money to yourself. If you can’t get to your new card, you can do a bank transfer so you don’t have to use the card. A bank transfer is not instant like a card one and you may wait 1-3 days.
- Have money in your Paypal, which you can use to buy something online if you need a flight or train ticket and have just lots your cards.
- Write down the phone numbers of the “lost or stolen” number for your banks. They are on the back of the cards which does you no good when the card is missing. You can search online as well, but best to just have it. I keep a document saved in my email drafts with my bank contact information as well.
- For more information on paperwork to prepare for travel check out this link.
- Get travel insurance!! So important guys! World Nomads Travel Insurance is what I use.
- Visa seems to be accepted everywhere, and Mastercard some places, but American Express isn’t accepted as many places (in my opinion).
- Travelers checks… who even knows what these are anymore… I don’t!
- Not from the US? Check out this post about UK banks that are great for travel.
- Lastly, keep track of what you’re spending and keep a budget while you travel. I wrote about my $20 a day budget in India and how I stuck to it.
Overall, it doesn’t have to be as scary or as big of a deal as you think. If you lose your card don’t panic. You can imagine it happens to travelers a lot and guess what, your bank will help you out through it. You won’t be alone!
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Great tips! I am going on a short trip to Macedonia next week and you can’t exchange money to Macedonian Denar or vice versa unless you’re in the country – uh oh – looks like I’ll have some cash that I just HAVE to spend in duty free ;-).
haha it’s always fun when you HAVE to spend money ;) no guilt!
Great tips – thanks so much for sharing!
Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/
Good advice. I have been having so many problems with my bank recently that I’m currently thinking of transferring to HSBC.
You mentioned that it’s better not to exchange money at the airport. I think that’s absolutely true. However, sometimes you don’t have a choice. Like, I am going back to Poland after 3 years now and have no Polish money with me, but I have a couple of dollars, which will be handy to exchange at the airport so I have money for a cab.
Yes in some cases it does make sense to :)
I brought a money belt the first time I came to India. However, I stopped using it after a few days. I did use it in Bangladesh, as it is not a tourist place. But when I go back to Bangladesh I will not use it. Bangladesh is super fantastic.
Great advice as always!
I really want to go to Bangladesh. Let me know if you go back, maybe I’ll tag along!
I am planning to be in Dhaka, Bangladesh during the first/second week of February 2017. I am going for a photograph festival. We may travel outside of Dhaka but we haven’t finalized plans yet. You can come if you want! I will keep you posted.
Oh that’s really interesting! yes I’d love to know about it. What is the festival called? Although I take all my pics on a camera phone lol they might not let me in :p
The festival is called Chobi Mela. There are exhibitions of photography and lectures about photography or by photographic artists. Anyone who likes photo is welcome. You make really nice cell phone photos! Obviously, we checked out other things in the city as well.
I know this post is mostly about banking, but I couldn’t resist weighing in on the other side the money belt argument. Don’t want people to be too complacent!
– Money belts may be dorky, but they shouldn’t LOOK dorky. The whole point is to wear them somewhere where others can’t see, and only access them in private where possible.
– Obviously you can carry smaller change in a wallet or something in addition to the belt. It’s much safer that way, especially if you’re mugged. Then you have something to easily give up.
– Passports (and cards) shouldn’t be left in luggage in many places. People can steal stuff from your rooms and luggage, locked or not. It happens in the nicest hotels, and in the cheapest hostels.
– Purses can easily be stolen/ripped from you, leather or not.
– No, locals don’t use money belts. They also don’t have to carry around passports and large amounts of cash, and they aren’t foreigners, so they don’t have targets painted on their backs.
Dork extraordinaire/belt believer
Hi Alex, totally see the other side of it. I definitely think people should use their hotel safes although I am always too lazy to do it. I use a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees so I never carry large amounts of cash and only have my passport on me while in transit.
During my time in Peace Corps in Kenya, I just used a regular purse or backpack and a regular wallet. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) used a money belt type wallet (while traveling and in urban areas) but kept it tucked into the leg of his cowboy boot. We called it his “boot safe” and I found it ridiculous and embarrassing, but he swore by it.
haha, men… they’re always embarrassing us ;)
Love your blog and advice. However, I will weigh in on the side of money belts. Last winter we were in Ecuador and at one place our manager warned us against leaving anything valuable in our room (basically a tree house) even if it was locked. Well, that very night a woman had her passport and hundreds of dollars stolen from her locked room. Likely scenario was that a small person, or child, had come through a window.
Some countries, like Myanmar, you pretty much have to take a bundle of cash as there are few ATMs. It’s surprising how thin you can compress a bunch of $US dollars and keep them crisp looking (a requirement in Myanmar).
I always keep a day’s ready cash in a small wallet in my front pocket (with a shirt hanging our over it) and my main cash, credit/debit card and passport in my money belt.
As for HSBC…. when I lived in Vietnam I used them as I had an account at home. They had terrible service fees. Eventually I learned to use ‘private’ banks in Vietnam. So true that the longer you’re in a place the more you learn about how the locals work things out.
Thanks for the great work and words.
Hi Rachel, in general I agree but you might want to reconsider your advise for countries like Uzbekistan (no ATM with local currency at airport and hardly any elsewhere, Madagascar (where – Dutch – bank cards f.e. don’t work, just creditcards like Visa so you have to get out large amounts when you can), island like Pemba or Zanzibar (none to hardly any ATM’s or just in capital)… quite a few reasons to wear a concealed money belt if you’re carrying around around 1.000 US$ in cash (or equivalent in local currency).
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